Thursday, January 28, 2021

HGB Ep. 370 - Old Wilmington

Moment in Oddity - The Unfinished Obelisk of Aswan, Egypt

The largest obelisk in the world is not only not finished, it is not standing upright. The unfinished obelisk is located in Aswan, Egypt. The construction of the obelisk was started by the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Hatshepsut. A unique thing about this pharaoh was that she was female. The second confirmed female pharaoh. Anyway, the obelisk was carved directly out of bedrock. As they separated it from the bedrock, cracks began to form and the project was abandoned. Had the Egyptians been able to complete the project and get this monstrous thing upright, it would have been a third larger than any other obelisk, standing over ten storeys tall. Now as to how the Egyptians had planned to lift what would have weighed the equivalent of 200 African elephants is anyone's guess. We imagine Ancient Alien Theorists would claim that the mother ship would have come and levitated it upright. Too bad the thing cracked because that would have been a sight to see. You can visit the open-air museum and see the unfinished obelisk, which certainly is odd!

This Month in History - March of Dimes Started

In the month of Jaunary, on the 3rd, in 1938, the March of Dimes Foundation was created. The March of Dimes started as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The main focus was to battle polio, which had afflicted the President. The organization funded Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. After that early success, the group moved their focus to preventing birth defects, infant mortality and helping premature babies. They help mothers to understand pregnancy and guide them through the entire process. The name "March of Dimes" was coined by screen and radio star Eddie Cantor. He got it from the radio and newsreel series, "The March of Time." He called for a nationwide fundraising campaign and lapel pins were sold for ten cents each. People literally mailed in dimes by the thousands. President Roosevelt said, "During the past few days bags of mail have been coming, literally by the truck load, to the White House. Yesterday between forty and fifty thousand letters came to the mail room of the White House. Today an even greater number — how many I cannot tell you — for we can only estimate the actual count by counting the mail bags. In all the envelopes are dimes and quarters and even dollar bills — gifts from grown-ups and children — mostly from children who want to help other children get well. … It is glorious to have one's birthday associated with a work like this."

Old Wilmington

During the Antebellum Era, Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina. From it's earliest days, the city was a rowdy place with pirates like Anne Bonny, Calico Jack and Blackbeard making their way up the Cape Fear River. Wilmington was an attractive place for commerce as well, due to its location on the water. Its production of naval supplies made it politically powerful and many of its residents rich. The city today is a balance of historical charm and college town. Many locations in the town have ghost stories connected to them. Join us as we share the history and haunts of Old Wilmington.

The French were the first to explore the Cape Fear River. This ominous name reflected the rough waters and foreboding shoals of the river. Old Wilmington was originally known as New Liverpool, having been named for the English city, and many of the streets still carry the same names as the streets in Liverpool, England. The name of Wilmington came from Spencer Compton, the Earl of Wilmington. The city incorporated in 1739. The Revolutionary War would bring British occupation and the Civil War would feature the building of Fort Fisher, which helped to keep the Confederates supplied. The largest naval bombardment of the 19th century caused the fort to fall. After the war, the city enjoyed a building boom. The city took care to preserve its historic buildings and by 1974, much of the downtown had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The first time Diane visited Wilmington, she remembered it being very loud. This was definitely a party college town. It was so loud that the ghost tour was completely ruined because it was impossible to hear the guide. Covid helped to make the second visit better because the town was much quieter. The Ghost Walk of Wilmington is set up in such a way that multiple tours go out each evening and even at the same time. The tours go to different locations, so on this tour we hit places Diane had not been to on the first tour. Here are several of the locations that are reputedly haunted in Wilmington. 

Latimer House

The Latimer House is located at 126 S. Third Street. Zebulon Latimer was a very successful man. One of the most successful in Old Wilmington and his success helped the city to become the largest city in the state of North Carolina during the antebellum era. He started a dry goods business, much of which was naval goods. Latimer also invested in the railroad and dredging of the Cape Fear River and canals. These endeavors made him a rich man. Zebulon married Elizabeth Savage and they had their 10,000 square foot home built in 1852. The builders were J.C. and R.B. Wood and the house was designed in the Italianate Revival style. The house was located on a bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River on the corner of Third and Orange Streets. The foyer was breathtaking with hand-painted floral wall designs and a grand staircase made from heart of pine. There were eleven rooms. The old iron fence that surrounded the house was apparently yanked out of their family plots in Oakdale Cemetery.

The Latimers would have nine children and tragically, five of them died before the age of five. The Latimers were slave owners and had a small brick building behind the house that served as slave quarters. After the Civil War, nearly all of the slaves left, but they remained in contact with the family and exchanged letters. One of the slaves stayed on as a servant and was still a part of the household on the 1930 census. The Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. bought the Latimer House from Herbert Russell Latimer, Jr. in 1963 and they made it their headquarters. Today, the house is a museum and events center that is open six days a week and features fourteen rooms full of antiques - many of which are original to the home - artwork and neoclassical statues from Paris.

Of course with so many children dying in the family, it is no surprise that the spirits of children are seen inside the house and even around the outside. They are blamed for pranks like taking objects and eyeglasses. They have literally taken dozens of glasses over the years. There could be other reasons for supernatural activity in the house. In 1923, when Herbert Latimer inherited the house, the deal was that his aunt through marriage had to be allowed to stay in the house until her death. Her name was Margaret Meares Latimer  and she had become friends with an artist named Elizabeth Chant who had come to town in 1922. She invited Chant to live at the mansion with her. One of Chant's interests was communicating with the spiritual world. Could she have invited spirits into the house that never left? And let's not forget that the fencing was taken from the Oakdale Cemetery. Could this be why contractors who were doing repairs after a fire in 1981 heard the sounds of furniture being dragged across the wooden floor on the fourth floor? There was no furniture on the fourth floor. 

The kitchen and dining room are said to be the most active areas. Chairs get moved around the dining room.There is the smell of pipe smoke in dining room and a putrid smell that comes from the kitchen. That smell is described like death and could possibly be because a cypress table in the kitchen was used for laying out the bodies of the children before burial although one has to wonder who would do that with a table where food is prepared. So perhaps something else causes the smell. The bodies could have been placed elsewhere here because this is down in the cellar where it is cool. Among the things found in the house was a first edition book of poetry by Emily Dickinson. The staff thought it would be a good idea to sell it to raise funds for the historical society. And then they realized it was a bad idea when the book and a wicker basket levitated five feet off the ground and started trembling. Needless to say, the book went back on the shelf.

The Bellamy Mansion

John Dillard Bellamy was a wealthy merchant and doctor and eventually one of the largest slaveholders in North Carolina. He married Eliza Harriss in 1839 and they had ten children together. Eliza had been the daugther of the man whom John studied medicine under. John received much of his early wealth from his father who owned a plantation in South Carolina. Bellamy eventually got involved in founding banks and he invested in the railroad. His merchant work came mostly through a tar and turpentine operation. He and Eliza started building their mansion in 1859 at 503 Market Street. The home was designed by architect James F. Post and when it was completed in 1861, it covered 10,000-square-feet and had twenty-two rooms with carved woodwork throughout. The design incorporates several architectural styles including Italianate, Greek Revival and Neoclassical. A ten-foot wide colonnade porch wraps around three sides of the house that have pocket doors making it easily accessible from many rooms. The top of the mansion features a belvedere with arched windows and fourteen Corinthian columns support a three story portico.

Yellow Fever swept through Wilmington and Bellamy evacuated his family in 1862. He had already been planning on leaving as the Civil War raged and he had heard that Wilmington would be invaded by the Union. Wilmington did fall to the Union in 1865 and the mansion was occupied as a headquarters. Dr. Bellamy wasn't allowed to return to his home after the war until he signed an oath of allegiance to the United States and set all his slaves free with a guarantee he would never own slaves again. The Bellamy children were successful with one becoming a doctor, two became lawyers, one became a pharmacist, another a farmer and there was a politician. Mary Elizabeth was the only daughter to marry and have children. Her sisters Eliza and Ellen never married and lived together in the family home. Ellen lived to be 93 and died in 1946. She was the last Bellamy to live in the mansion. The house remained in the possession of the Bellamy family until 1972 when it was given to a nonprofit who restored it and opened it as a museum.

Also on the property there is a two-story slave quarters built from brick. The building measures one room deep and three rooms wide and was typical of slave quarters found in the city. They were more comfortable than the smaller slave huts found on plantations. The added comfort included a laundry room, four sleeping chambers and two five-seat privies. This building was also designed by James F. Post and has similar elements as the mansion. Post also designed the original carriage house that was destroyed in a hurricane in 1946. A new one was built to replace it. No one is thought to have died in the house and yet ghost stories persist in connection to the house. A neat stack of buttons were found beneath the floorboards of the slave quarters and it is believed this was in accordance with West African tradition as a way to keep evil spirits at bay. Was this a common tradition for slave builders to do or was there a reason they were afraid that evil might invade the quarters? 

One of the most interesting ghosts tales took place in the 1990s when a film crew was using the mansion. A couple of the crew were scouting the location and they went into the library where they found boxes and boxes of old papers from the Bellamy family. They started rifling through the boxes when they heard the front door slam. They figured it was a security guard until they heard heavy booted footfalls coming down the hallway quickly. The library slammed open and a rush of icy wind blew through, knocking papers everywhere. The men were startled and ran out into the hallway, out the front door, down the stairs and out to the sidewalk. The door slammed behind them and they heard what sounded like two fists beating the other side of the door. They never went in the house again. 

Another story concerns re-enactors. A group of them were camped out inside the house the day before their event. In the middle of the night, several said they were shaken awake by a man in a Union uniform. He would give them all a weird look. The next morning several of the re-enactors were talking to each other about their experience the night before with this man. They looked around their group and realized that they were all dressed as Confederates. There was no Union uniform among them. As a matter of fact, the Union re-enactors had all spent the night at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Imagine how confused the Union soldier must have been being surrounded by all these Confederates.

Ellen Bellamy was the last Bellamy in the house and there are some odd experiences connected to her. She used a wheelchair in her later years and it is still in the house. It travels from room to room and while staff have tried to blame guests of events, people claim that they don't move the chair and oftentimes it will just appear behind them in such a way that they turn around and nearly fall over it. Others claim to feel uneasy around it. Some feel as though the chair is falling them. They will walk from one room to the next and the chair is all of a sudden in the previous room. There is also a black spot on the wall connected to Ellen. She would lay in bed in her later years reading the newspaper and she would get ink all over her hands. When she went to sleep, she would reach up to the all sconce and turn it off. She would end up getting ink on the wall. There was quite a build up by the time she passed. The stain has been painted over several times and it always manages to come back. 

Captain Ellerbrock and Boss

There is a building at the corner of Front and Dock Streets that has hosted a series of businesses like The Husk Restaurant. The building has had a bad fire and a haunting. William Ellerbrock was a captain of a steam tug. He was also a volunteer member of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. On April 10, 1880, the Captain heard the fire alarm and when he saw how big the fire was, he quickly ran from his tugboat. The Captain had a dog named Boss with him as well who followed after him as he ran for the fire. The Captain asked a bystander to watch his dog before he raced into the building to help anyone who may be trapped. The fire got worse and the firefighters all pulled out of the building. Shortly thereafter, a scream was heard coming from inside the building and Boss broke free and ran into the building, having recognized his master's voice.

The fire had to be allowed to burn itself out. When the fire crew entered the building the next morning, they found the body of the Captain. He was lying face down with a heavy timber over him, so they he could not get out of the building. Boss had found him and tried to save him. Boss was found with part of the Captain's coat in his mouth, so it was clear that he had tried to drag his owner to safety. Boss was right next to the Captain, so it was also clear that he realized he would not be able to get his master out and so he stayed and died with the Captain. The two friends were put in the casket together and interred at Oakdale Cemetery beneath a headstone that features the carving of a dog curled up with the inscription "Faithful Unto Death."

The Captain and Boss are said to still haunt the building. Our tour guide had been doing some set-up in the building when it was being used for a haunted house attraction and he heard the whining of a dog himself. Many people have heard the whining and barking of a dog throughout the building. During some renovations, an electrician and his crew were working in an upstairs corner when they heard the whining of a dog in the building. They followed the sound, but found no dog. What the electrician did find was a very dangerous electrical problem and if he had switched out whatever he was working on, it would have caused a fire. He decided against doing the work because it was too much of a fire hazard.

The Cotton Exchange

The Cotton Exchange is a line of boutiques, shops and restaurants located at 321 N. Front Street. This used to be a place nicknamed Paddy's Hollow and the history of that has more than likely left some negative spiritual residue. There once was an old pond here called Horse Pond that had a fenced paddock near it that was known as Paddock's Hollow. Eventually that shortened to Paddy's Hollow. This was low lying and muddy land that nobody wanted and in the 1700s squatters started setting up a shanty town that took in all types. There was not just the poor and freed slaves here, but opium addicts, alcoholics and women plying the sex trade. The area became so dangerous that even the police would not enter it, particularly after three officers were attacked by a gang. Front Street Methodist Church set up shop near Paddy's Hollow, perhaps to try to clean up the place, but that didn't work out. Stories claim that the riff raff drowned out the Sunday morning sermons. A fire in 1886 destroyed the Hollow and the church, which rebuilt in a different location and became today's Grace Methodist United Church. There was a problem though. The church had a churchyard and they didn't move the cemetery with them. Instead, the bodies were dug up and reinterred in Oakdale Cemetery. Maybe.

Built over this place were business buildings, many of which were connected to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. When the railroad left in 1955, these buildings were left abandoned and this became the seedy spot in town once again. In the 1970s, it was decided to remodel and The Cotton Exchange was put together and this added to the majesty of Wilmington. You can dress up a bad spot in history, but that doesn't do away with spiritual energy and many of the businesses here claim to have hauntings. First up we have The Top Toad. This clothing and souvenir shop has been in business for twenty-five years and the activity has been here since day one. Hangers on display racks move on their own, disembodied footsteps are heard as well as disembodied voices. Employees claim it is as though they have invisible patrons. Some of this activity has been picked up on security cameras. Spirits appear as murky, shadowy figures. Shirts are found unfolded and displays knocked down when employees open the store in the mornings. 

Next, we have The German Cafe. This German restaurant has been in business since 1985 and serves up schnitzel, wurst, reubens, German potato salad and house made desserts like the Napoleon. The interior has exposed beams and old brickwork ghost. There is the spirit of a female wearing a Victorian dress that is seen around dinner time at the top of the steps leading to the upper dinning room. One of the owners named Harvey was locking up one night. He had turned off the kitchen lights and was getting ready to shut off the hallway lights when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. When he glanced over, he saw a woman standing on the landing. He described the dress as being colored purple with black lace trim. She seemed unaware of him and eventually vanished. Other employees claim to feel as though someone is watching them that they can't see.

Another haunted restaurant here is Paddy's Hollow Pub & Restaurant. This is a restaurant and pub that serves up shepherd's pie, burgers, steaks, salads and beer. This restaurant has a man in black who visits on occasion and perhaps this is because it is near the former graveyard. This entity made its first appearance during renovations. They were in the process of drilling holes in the brick for new beer lines when the manager looked up and saw this man in black. This figure had long wavy black hair and a long black frock and was leaning against the open door to the kitchen. The restaurant was closed, so he assumed this man was an intruder. The man quickly turned and ran through the kitchen door, slamming the door. The manager ran after the figure into the kitchen and found no one there. And the rear door had a stack of boxes in front of it, so clearly the figure didn't leave that way. 

There was an ice cream shop here called The Scoop. It closed and may now be Nutty Buddies Ice Cream & Sandwiches. The ghost story of the former Scoop shop features a little girl's apparition who is rather playful. She plays with all the appliances in the store like the blender, microwave and mixer. She'll flip channels on the radio, knock over the napkin keepers and run her hands through the wind chimes. Employees claim to have seen the little girl’s image in the glass case in the store and in the clock face. The former owner was in the shop alone when she felt something playing with her hair. She spun around and saw that she was indeed alone. She went back to her work and felt her shirt being tugged. She spun around and saw nothing again. She once again went back to her work. When the tag of her shirt was pulled out over her collar she finally yelled out, " I don't have time for this right now!" That was it for the pranks. The sweet southern drawl of a little girl is sometimes heard as well.

Paradise Alley

During the time of the pirates, there was a street that was known for its taverns, pubs and brothels. Of course, it had the nickname of Paradise Alley. This infamous lane ran from Market Street to Dock Street, just off Front Street. The men coming in off the ships could walk the alley and survey the women calling to them from the upper windows of the buildings. The Blue Post was a favorite brothel and this was run by a madam named Gallus Meg. That Gallus part is derived from the word gallows. Meg was not to be messed with as she stood six feet tall and weighed over 350 pounds. She could bounce an ill-mannered pirate in a matter of seconds. And Meg did more than just bounce an unruly customer. She'd bite off his ear and save it in a pickling jar. This jar was kept at the back of the bar to serve as a warning. Some stories claim that there was a finger or two in that jar as well. A woman who ruled this establishment with an iron fist would certainly not give up her post just because she has died. Oh no, Meg is still here taking out customers. The place eventually became a restaurant called Water Street Restaurant that closed and is now Michael's on the Waterfront. Employees who have worked at this location have claimed that Gallus Meg haunts the place because they have seen her spirit several times. She mostly hangs out in the ladies' restroom and goes after any men who accidentally stumble inside. The story goes that she tries to grab them by the throat as they flee the restroom.

Samuel Jocelyn

During our ghost walk, we stood outside of St. James Cemetery and our guide told us about a man who was buried alive. This man was Samuel Jocelyn and he fell off his horse in the early 1800s and fell into a icy pond of water, and medicine being what it was then, they assumed he was dead when he was found two days later. The story goes that he was buried and when he awoke, he found himself underground and needing help. Samuel had a friend named Alexander Hostler whom he called Sandy. They found themselves one night getting into a debate with some other men about the topic of life after death. Both Samuel and Sandy believed that the spirit went on. The two men made a pact at the end of the debate that whichever one of them died first, that man would return to the other to prove that he went on. Sandy was devastated at the loss of his friend and the night after they buried Samuel, Sandy found himself weeping in front of the fire and when he looked up, he saw his friend sitting there. Sandy was terrified as he listened to his friend whisper that he wanted Sandy to come dig him up. Sandy fainted and when he awoke, the spirit was gone. He figured he had dreamed it. The same thing happened the next night. Sandy still did nothing and Samuel appeared for a third time. Sandy went to a friend to see what he thought. This friend believed in the supernatural and he agreed to help Samuel and so in the cover of darkness, they dug up Samuel's coffin. What they found, shocked them. Samuel was turned over in his coffin and his fingers were raw from scratching the lid. He was clearly now dead after being buried alive. And for that reason it is said that Samuel haunts his grave. People hear the sounds of scratching at the gate of St. James Cemetery. Muffled cries are heard coming from the grave.

Price-Gause House

The Price-Gause House is located at 514 Market Street, which is also a place once referred to as Gallows Hill. This location is one of the most active in all of Wilmington and that could be because this site isn't nicknamed Gallows Hill for nothing. This is where public hangings were carried out and many men lost their lives here. Unclaimed bodies were buried nearby. Eventually the apparatus was moved to a different area and the land was sold. Dr. William Price had been a lieutenant colonel during the Civil War and was a medical doctor and he bought the plot and decided to build his dream home here...on Gallows Hill. This house would include his office. The two-story Italianate styled house was completed in 1860 and had twelve rooms. Dr. Price died shortly after the Civil War and his son Joseph Price inherited the property. He would become the harbormaster of Wilmington. He rented out the property from 1881 to 1899 to Frederick Rheinstein. His daughter, Dr. Alice Rheinstein Bernheim wrote in a letter to the Wilmington Morning Star in 1957 about her experiences living in the house, "All sorts of human bones were found by us when we dug in the backyard." Thomas J. Gause, a captain of the 115th Machine Battalion of the 30th Division in World War I, owned the house later. He had grown up in the house. In 1968, the house passed onto the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce who used this as their headquarters until 1991. Today it houses the architectural firm Bowman Murray Hemingway Architects.

Stories of paranormal happenings date all the way back to the time of the Prices. The minute a house was put on this property, the energy was unsettled and a variety of weird things started happening. Servants started complaining that items in the kitchen would move around on their own. Doors would open and close on their own. The ghost of James Peckham, who was hanged in the 1700s for stealing a purse, is said to wander the halls. This could be because he always maintained his innocence. Snakes also infested the home. Early one morning, a snake was found slithering across a bedroom floor and then another snake was found in a shoe the next day. Another was found in the bottom of a knitting bag. Clearly there was an infestation and when they started ripping open walls, they found many snakes.

Later owners would describe smelling pipe tobacco. The mysterious sound of metal clanking has been described and a local historian, Lewis Philip Hall, claims that this could be the chains of prisoners being marched to their deaths. Many people walking past the house have looked up and seen figures standing in the upstairs windows. These people are always wearing period clothing. Lynne Gause, who was married to Thomas Gause Jr., describes an experience they had in the house shortly after they married. She noticed an eerie chill in the room at the same time as something pulled the covers off the bed.

Another ghost has been nicknamed George and he has been seen bounding down the stairs and then disappearing. He is an old man who smiles and wears period clothing. An upstairs office has windows that even frost up during the summer. Sometimes people standing outside will look up and see the frost and then see the word "HELP" appear in the frost. Eastern Paranormal are investigators who caught EVPs inside the house and other anomalies. J & J Ghost Seekers investigated as well getting some weird pictures and fluctuations in EMF. One picture is said to show a shadow figure peeking through a window and pulling a curtain open. The side yard makes people uncomfortable and this is where several graves had been found. 

John Hirchak who started the Ghost Walk of Wilmington tour told the Star News Online about an experience his tour group had outside this house, "He took his tour past the supposedly haunted Price-Gause House on Market Street when two women in his group screamed. Their shrieks caused the eyes of others in the group to widen and direct their gaze to just over Hirchak’s shoulder, where multiple people claimed to have seen a ghost in the window of the home, which is now the offices of an architectural firm. As people scattered into the street, Hirchak chased after them trying to take control of the situation. It was too late – his guests were visibly shaken." The ghost tour claims that many people have gotten physically ill when standing outside the house in the area where bones have been found.

One of the employees at the architect firm asked if he could sleep over in the house one night after a hurricane had damaged his home. He was exhausted when he finally went to sleep and fell asleep quickly. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by the slamming around of furniture on the first floor. He grabbed his bedding, ran for his car and drove to Wal-Mart to sleep in the parking lot there. The next morning, his manager asked why he hadn't spent the night there and he explained that he had, but left after what happened. The manager looked around the first floor and none of the furniture was out of place. 

Wilmington is a fun town with great food, craft beer, ghost tours and hunts and wonderful historic buildings. It is worth taking the time to visit. And just maybe you might experience something weird there. Are these places in Wilmington haunted? That is for you to decide!

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